© charles Granger/Horry Georgetown Technical College

As a college student so many years ago, I wasn’t always sure Einstein’s words were heard by my professors. More often than not, “memorization and regurgitation” were the terms that many of my professors liked to share. Indeed, as a professor now myself, I’ve been known to use a few similar snippy quips to my students. Yet I doubt anyone had a true mentor who felt that was the best way to learn.

During that period of my youth, I struggled to put it all together. Perhaps it was my tendency to be a troublemaker, rabble-rouser or whatever pithy term comes to mind to describe my lack of motivation, but I floundered early in my college experience. The questions I had all started with “But why?” My professors read from the script but taught very little. Among the more memorable things I took from those days was the old sermon: “Look to your left. Look to your right. One of you won’t be here next semester.” How inspirational! Then I found turf school.

I immediately grasped onto the hands-on learning environment. I found faculty that actually cared if I understood the material. And if I didn’t, they pushed me — and themselves — to make me a better student. The term “job ready” replaced the standard sound bites I previously heard. The new approach worked. I grew in both industry readiness and educational confidence. Those formative years, that hands-on education, shaped my future and the future of so many others.

Fast forward 30 years and the Golf and Sports Turf Management program at Horry Georgetown Technical College has gone back to its roots — in dramatic fashion. Yes, we still have an amazing partnership with Coastal Carolina University and the management of the university’s Hackler Golf Course. But this summer, amid so much uncertainty, the administration at HGTC stood behind its decision to financially support a new Turf Care and Demonstration Center.

© charles Granger/Horry Georgetown Technical College

The new facility, located in Conway, South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach, is a rededication to hands-on learning. Championed by GSTM department chair Charles Granger, the new turf center encourages students and industry to partner and improve the job skills and education of our next generation of turf managers.

“With the variety of backgrounds of our students, the national presence they represent and the emergence of new science and technologies, we needed a way to better share the skills they must have to succeed,” Granger told me. “I couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome of this endeavor and the industry partners who gave so much to the success of our new chapter in student mentoring.”

The new turf center incorporates quite a grand vision into a rather small footprint.

“We looked for the best location for the new project and found a small plot on our Conway campus that was perfect,” Granger said. The location he spoke of is a 27,000 square foot area near the new building that houses the GSTM program. But picking the location was only the beginning. “We knew what we wanted but needed someone with vision to take us to the finish line,” Granger said. That person became golf course architect Craig Schreiner.

© charles Granger/Horry Georgetown Technical College

Schreiner has designed courses across the country but has called Myrtle Beach home for more than a decade and has notable Grand Strand-area golf courses on his resume, including “The Grandaddy,” Pine Lakes Golf Club. Schreiner quickly dove into the project. His background as both a landscape architect and civil engineer proved invaluable. As one might guess, the budget for construction was tight, which made Schreiner’s background in shaping even more important. Schreiner created a design that included quantity amounts, required square footages and dimensions, and met requested timelines to complete the project on time and under budget. “Having a turf degree along with my design background made this project all the more fun to take on,” Schreiner says. “We really worked hard to deliver a tremendous turf facility on a small footprint.”

The new facility includes numerous turf plots that represent both warm- and cool-season turfgrasses. Numerous cultivars of Bermudagrass along with zoysiagrass, Saint Augustine, paspalum and centipedegrass comprise turf plots incorporated into the rough and fairway. Additionally, two bentgrass cultivars and an ultradwarf make up a nearby nursery green. Schreiner designed the entire turf facility to be disguised as a short par 3 with an ultradwarf green and zoysiagrass tee box. He also designed a unique sand bunker to further the variety of studies the facility can provide.

The entire project looks like a beautiful golf hole, but in reality is a magnificent laboratory that one can also use to hone their short game! Industry partners assisted with a state-of-the-art irrigation system for every turf plot, green and tee. Other partners donated construction services, grasses, various bunker liners, drainage, fertility and chemistry, and mowing and utility equipment. We’ve even added a drone with thermal imagery capabilities to further the study of soil and water conservation.

“It has been an overwhelming show of support from our industry,” Granger says. “There’s no way this is possible without our community and the involvement of the turfgrass industry here in Myrtle Beach.”

This doesn’t mean we won’t grill our students for excellence in the classroom. The classroom, though, has expanded into a wonderful outdoor facility. In a year when being outside and enjoying the fresh air has been more important than ever, this lab has already paid off with huge dividends. Our first-year students are gaining experience with numerous pieces of equipment while studying turf cultivars and culture, maintenance strategies, and science-based applications. Second-year students have already maximized their time at the turf center while studying live turf pathology, insect activity, and the various chemistry and fertilization strategies needed to overcome these obstacles.

The best way I can sum up our hard work and determination — and what it means to our program’s future — is to finish with a quote from Aristotle: “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” This project was years in the making, and we think it will be an overnight success.

Ashley Wilkinson is a professor of golf and sports turf and golf course management at Horry Georgetown Technical College, where the Golf and Sports Turf Management program will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.